October 30, 2002

MICHAEL KELLY ON THE CHICKENHAWK SLUR:

Its power lies in the simplicity that comes with being completely wrong. The central implication here is that only men who have professionally endured war have the moral standing and the experiential authority to advocate war. That is, in this country at least, a radical and ahistorical view. The Founders, who knew quite well the dangers of a military class supreme, were clear in their conviction that the judgment of professional warmakers must be subordinated to the command of ignorant amateurs — civilian leaders who were in turn subordinated to the command of civilian voters. Such has given us the leadership in war of such notable “chicken hawks” as Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Further, the inescapable logic of “chicken hawk”-calling is that only military men have standing to pronounce in any way on war — to advocate it or to advocate against it. The decision not to go to war involves exactly the same issues of experiential and moral authority as does the decision to go to war. If a past of soldiering is required for one, it is required for the other. Chicken doves have no more standing than “chicken hawks.” We must leave all the decisions to the generals and the veterans.

A great piece, though lacking a reference to Starship Troopers.

UPDATE: Matt Wech emails: “Incidentally, one of the core pre-conditions for post-communist countries to join NATO is that they establish *civilian* control over their militaries.”

My reply: “Where the hell is Layne?”

ANOTHER UPDATE: Tacitus points out that Lincoln did in fact serve, in the militia.